For many years, art critics thought Beato Angelico (sometimes refered to as Fra Angelico) was born in 1387. However, a document dated in 1417 was found that made reference to him as “the painter” who drew the “people” in the San Michele Visdomini in Florence. At the time, he had not yet found his faith in God, but he had already started to paint. In the years following his death, the way in which he lived and his complete devotion to God made others start calling him ‘Angelico’ or ‘Beato’. Pinpointing his birth at the end of the century has made it easier to track his artistic training and progress.
Beato Angelico began painting in Florence and studying Brunelleschi and Donatello’s technique of perspective. His first recorded painting is dated 1418, when he received payment for a wood fresco in the Santo Stefano al Ponte chapel. In 1423, just after taking his monastic vows, Fra’ Giovanni began working on a crucifix for the Santa Maria Nuova hospital in Florence. He also painted extensively in the San Dominico convent in Fiesole with the help of his pupils, including Zanobi Strozzi. His artworks appear in many Florentine churches, as well as those that were commissioned by private clients. In Vasari’s biography, the author exalts Fra’ Giovanni’s exemplary life and disinterest in the monetary value of his paintings. Indeed, Fra’ Giovanni donated all of his money to his convent.
In 1429, a document testifies that he did work for the nuns of San Pietro. In 1433, he went to Brescia to paint an Annunciation for the Sant’Alessandro. In that same year, he was paid 190 florins for a tabernacle commissioned by Arte dei Linaioli. In 1436, he painted the Deposition for the Santa Maria Tempio, and a year later, he worked on a triptych for a church in Perugia. In these years, he painted the frescos in the San Marco church, which then passed into the hands of the Dominican convent. Pope Eugenio IV consecrated it in 1443 while work was still underway. The frescos were completed in circa 1446, the year that Fra’ Giovanni was called to work in Rome by the pope. In Rome, he painted a chapel in the Vatican, which has since been lost, and under the watchful eye of Pope Eugenio IV, he painted the Niccolina Chapel. Before returning to Fiesole, and after having become Prior, he stopped in Orvieto, where he began work on the San Brizio chapel in the city’s cathedral, however he never finished it. From 1449 to 1451, he became the Prior of San Domenico in Fiesole. Vasari says he was offered the role of archbishop of Florence but modestly denied the prestigious duty. It is likely that he moved to Rome a few years before his death to carry out other artworks. He died in the Santa Maria Minerva convent in 1455.